In olden times there ruled a great and powerful king, whose name was Solomon. All the land of Israel was under his sway, and there was no one so rich or so honoured on the face of the earth.
Upon succeeding to the throne, Solomon had been filled with awe at the mightiness of the task before him, and in the humility of his heart, prayed for the wisdom to govern justly.
“For,” he said, “I am but a little child, and how should I discern between right and wrong?
His wish was granted and, above and beyond his wealth and honour, Solomon was famed for his wisdom.
One day two women came before the King. They carried with them a little baby, which was set down on the floor, at the foot of Solomon’s throne.
“O my lord,” said one of the women, “five days ago I gave birth to a child. This woman and I live in the same house, and three days later she also gave birth, but that same night her child died, and at midnight she arose and, while I was sleeping, took my son away from me, and laid her dead child in its place. When I awoke in the morning I thought at first that my son was dead, until I realised that it was not my child.”
“No,” interrupted the second woman, “she lies, my lord, she lies! The living child is mine and the dead is hers!”
“No,” cried the first woman, wildly. “No, the dead child is yours, and the living child is mine.”
King Solomon raised his hand for silence.
“One of you says ‘my child lives and yours is dead ’, and the other says ‘your child is dead and my child lives’, there is a simple way to resolve the matter. Bring me a sword.”
A sword was brought, and the assembly waited to see how the King would proceed.
“Very well,” he said, “cut the child in two, and give half to one mother, and half to the other.”
The first woman turned pale.
“O my lord,” she said in a faltering voice. “Pray, give her the child. I beg you, do not kill it.”
But the other woman’s face remained hard.
“Let it be neither mine nor yours,” she said, “divide it as the King has ordained.”
Then Solomon arose, and pointed to the first woman.
“The child belongs to her, ” he said. “Give her the child, and do not kill it. She is its mother.”
Word of this judgement spread throughout Israel, and people marvelled at the wisdom of the King.